Uche Anizor: Hope When You’re Struggling to Care
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Uche AnizorUche Anizor (Phd, Wheaton College) is an associate professor of theology at Talbot School of Theology, Biola University. His other books include How to Read Theology and Representing Christ. He is married to Melissa and they have three children.
Confused by your own lack of passion, your apathy when it comes to faith? Author Uche Anizor offers ideas to rekindle your first love’s persistent flame.
Uche Anizor: Hope When You’re Struggling to Care
Ann: I know you have a lot of favorite verses in the Bible. What would you—if you had to say top two or even top one—what’s one of them?
Dave: Well, yes, when you say it that way, my—one of my favorites is Ephesians 3:20: “God will do beyond what we can even imagine—
Ann: —immeasurably more.
Dave: —“according to His power and His Holy Spirit.” That would be, probably, my number one.
But there is a verse in the book of Revelation—even when you just say that, people go, “Ooh!”—there are so many metaphors: it’s the end of the world/end times and eschatology. But there is one that sort of scares me.
Ann: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Ann Wilson.
Dave: And I’m Dave Wilson, and you can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on our FamilyLife® app.
Ann: This is FamilyLife Today!
Dave: It’s in the second chapter of the book of Revelation, when the angel is revealing what he says to the seven churches. To one of the churches, he says, “You have lost your first love.” That scares me;—
Ann: Yes, I’ll read it.
Dave: —you know?
Ann: It’s in Revelation 2, verses 4 and 5, which says, “Yet, I hold this against you. You have forsaken the love you had at first. Consider how far you have fallen.”
Dave: Don’t read anymore.
Ann: Oh, okay.
Dave: Because the question is: “When you’ve lost your first love, what do you do?” I don’t think most people would go where this Revelation passage goes as the next thing: “Here is what you do”; so we want to talk about that today.
We’ve got Uche Anizor back in the studio with us, theology professor from Biola. He’s come a long way from Los Angeles to Orlando to be on FamilyLife Today. Welcome back.
Uche: Great to be here.
Dave: You’re over there, smiling a little bit. I’m guessing you’ve sort of looked at this passage and thought about it, because you wrote a book about overcoming apathy. We spent a day talking about just losing your zeal for God, and you’ve been there. I’ve been there; I think everybody has been there and: “How do we dig out of that?”
But when you hear that passage—because it’s really like you’ve lost your first love, which can obviously be with our walk with God; it could be in our marriage—you know what it says next; that’s probably why you are smiling.
Dave: But I think what is revealed in the book of Revelation, about what to do when you’ve lost your zeal, is that the right answer? Tell us what it says.
Uche: Yes, if I remember correctly, it says, “Repent, and remember the things you did at first,”—
Uche: —which is powerful; because the solution is not this sort of radical, mystifying solution. Christ is saying, “Alright, you had an intensity of love before. What did you do during that time when you had this intensity of love? Revisit that.”
For that church, it may have been basic spiritual practices—it may have been them just doing better at owning their sin and repenting; it may have been them doing fellowship with one another—it could have been a number of things.
Uche: But Christ is saying: “Don’t just sit there, perplexed. Engage with the things that you did at first, and you may actually find that you’ve regained that first love.”
Dave: And I think, often, when we think of our own spiritual walk—when we hear: “I’ve lost my first love,”—I don’t think that’s where we would go. We’d be like, “Oh, I’ve got to get my love back.” It’s almost like a marriage; it’s like: “I’ve got to just fall back in love.” It’s like: “How do you do that?” “Well, what did you do when you were dating?
Uche: That’s right.
Dave: “What did you do when you were engaged?” Those activities gave you an appreciation and love. Think about it, at least in [your] mind: “In marriage, if you go back to those early days, what did you do? You sat; you talked—which means, spiritually— you were in the Word; you are listening to God; you are talking to God; you are getting to know God. You see things and attributes about God that you have never seen before; and you are like, “Oh my goodness! This is who You are.” It stokes a fire in your heart.
Dave: That works in a marriage.
Dave: Does it work that way in a spiritual walk?
Uche: It can. I think one of the complicating things, that I think we have to be honest about with our spiritual lives, is familiarity breeds contempt; right? The more that we are familiar with these enormous realities of the Christian faith, sadly, we grow numb to them. The average Christian—imagine they go to 40 services a year; 45/50 services a year—and they are hearing—
Dave: —church services?
Uche: —church services; yes—and they are hearing stuff about Jesus, stuff about the gospel; and they listen to Christian radio; and then they have Christian songs.
Dave: They listen to FamilyLife Today.
Uche: They listen to FamilyLife Today!
Uche: Imagine that! They are just inundated with the good news.
Uche: And as much as we want to say: “You should always be excited about the good news,” the reality of being human—not to mention the sinful reality of being human—we are going to grow numb to things that are familiar. It really is a battle that we are engaged in to stay excited and passionate about very familiar things.
Ann: Well—not only that—but we live in a world, where it’s competing for our affection and our time.
Uche: That’s right.
Ann: So if we do get a little bored in the spiritual aspect, we have something over here, in the world, that can fill us up and bring us pleasure. So then, we kind of walk away—or maybe, not even walk away—we drift a little bit,—
Uche: That’s right.
Ann: —without realizing it.
Yesterday, we even talked about apathy/of what that means. Let me read the definition that you put in your book: “Apathy is a psychological and spiritual sickness, in which we experience a prolonged dampening of motivation, effort, and emotion, as well as a resistance to do things that would bring flourishing in ourselves and others.”
I think that is really good to think through: “Hmm, how am I doing? Am I apathetic?”
Dave: When I hear that—even when I read it in your book—I thought, “Wow! There is a lot of apathy in me.” I’m like, “Whoa! There is a loss of first love that can creep in, and it is subtle.”
Ann: But then, Dave, Uche says this—and you’re right here—“But it is a sin that expresses itself as restlessness, aimlessness, laziness, and joylessness toward the things of God.” I think a lot of us are like, “Ooh, that just hit hard.”
Uche: Yes; I think we think of apathetic people as just sort of like lazy couch potatoes. [Laughter]
Uche: That may be the case, but it’s a spiritual thing.
Uche: We are actually engaged in a spiritual battle. There is a real enemy that wants to keep us engaged with things that are trivial and meaningless, and wants us to feel sort of blah about the things that are life-giving and things that help me flourish and other people flourish.
“How do we engage in a spiritual battle?”—we, going back to Revelation, we remember the things we did at first.
Dave: Yes; and repent, which means I’ve got to be honest and say, “You know what? That is me.
Dave: “It isn’t just my wife.” Of course, it’s my wife—but no; I think that’s what we do—we point out others.
Uche: That’s right.
Dave: Some of the most judgmental people probably have the hardest, coldest, apathetic hearts—
Uche: That’s exactly right.
Dave: —there are.
It is somewhat scary; it’s like: “How do I dig out of that?” Repent would mean: “Own up to your own sin,”—
Uche: That’s right.
Dave: —say, “This is wrong. This is who I am; I’m going to turn away from that and do the things I did at first,” which is going to re-stoke something.
I think one of the best things I learned, as a new follower of Christ—I was a college kid, a junior in college; I got involved with Cru. My mentor, who was actually another student—he was a married student—taught me what a quiet time was: a daily time to sit with God’s Word, pray, study, and even worship.
One the things he told me—and I didn’t know; not a lot of people ever heard this—he said, “You need to change this up,”—it shouldn’t look the same every month, every year—“like it isn’t always going to be this; six months later from now, you may emphasize this more;”—
Ann: That’s good advice.
Dave: —“because some things will get rote, and they just won’t have any impact. Well, move on from that. It doesn’t mean: ‘Don’t read the Word anymore.’
Uche: That’s right.
Dave: “Just read it in different ways.” Is that helpful?
Uche: I think that is really well-said. Why is it that I can get excited about a new Netflix® show versus the Bible or something like that? Part of the reason is it’s new. When it’s new, it’s engaging—even though there are only so many plot lines you can have in a movie or whatever—but at the same time, it is just new. We have to recognize that we have a hunger for new things or for things to be expressed in new ways. We just need to own that and change things up. Find different ways to engage God’s Word.
For the last couple of years, my primary way of engaging with God’s Word is through listening. I had never done that for the entirety of my Christian life; but now, I do it through a Bible app or whatever; I listen to Scripture. That’s my way of sort of changing things up, adding a little bit of spice, for lack of a better term, to my relationship with the Lord. I think we just need to be honest with ourselves and say, “We crave novelty.” Novelty is not good, in and of itself; but we need it every now and again.
Ann: I think that is really reassuring; because we think, “I’m not as consistent as this other person, who does the same thing for the last ten years.”
Lately, when I’ve been walking, I’ll listen to these amazing sermons; and then this week, I just thought, “I’m going to leave all of that at home. I’m going to leave my phone at home, and I’m just going to pray, and I’m going to listen, and I’m going to think.”
Ann: Sometimes, I fill my head so much with so much stuff that I don’t feel and experience God’s presence, His pleasure, His promptings in the Spirit, and just talking to Him, and then giving myself space. For me, that’s really important. Do you ever do that?
Dave: Well, I remember—I was just thinking when you were saying that—a few years ago/well, it’s been almost a decade now—one of our sons went to Passion Conference in the Georgia Dome. There were 60/70,000 college kids there. As a parent, you’re so excited your kid is going to this. He was a sophomore in college. He came home, just—you can imagine—on fire. We’ve all had those retreats, and he is in a stadium with all these college kids.
I’ll never forget—we are sitting in our family room—and he says, “Dad, I’ve just got to play you this worship chorus that we were singing down there.” He started playing this song, and it’s just a simple—in fact, you know what?—we’ve got a guitar.
Uche: Yes! I was hoping this would happen!
Ann: Get ready Bruce [technician]; you need to put all the things on there now.
Dave: I did not even plan to do this.
Ann: I don’t think Bruce is going to do it.
Dave: I’m hoping I can remember how it goes. Yes; so we’re literally sitting in our living room—Ann wasn’t there—we are alone. He just puts this on, and this is all they were singing [Dave and Ann singing]: “Set a fire down in my soul that I can’t contain, that I can’t control. I want more of You, God. I want more of You, God. Set a fire down in my soul that I can’t contain, that I can’t control. I want more of You, God. I want more of You, God.”
Here is all I know: it starts building; right? And I’m not kidding: three and half minutes in, we are both standing up, alone in our home, singing, which it was just this beautiful moment that I will never forget with my son.
Think about the lyrics of that song—you can hardly even call it a song—it’s just a simple prayer—
Uche: It’s a chorus.
Dave: —of: “I want—
Ann: It’s an anthem too.
Dave: —“I want fire back in my soul. I don’t want to be apathetic; I don’t want to be a follower, who has lost his first love.”
Here is all I’m telling you, Uche.
Dave: What happened, from that day forward for me, is that ignited something that had sort of left me at that season in my life; and that was singing worship choruses, hymns.
I’m an artist; I play in bands. It was something that was really important to me, early in my Christian walk. I was at a season in my life, where that was just something: ”Well, that’s something I did,” “It is something we do at church.”
All I can tell you is this: I started reigniting that part of my spiritual walk. When I would be in the Word in the morning, I would put on a worship song. I would get my guitar; I would sing a worship song.
Here is all I can tell you: a zealous fire came back to my walk with God in that season. Again, we’re not sitting here, saying—and I know you are not saying this Uche—the only way that you’re going to stoke the fire in your soul for Jesus is singing worship songs.
Dave: But it might be something like that.
Uche: No, I think that’s a brilliant connection you made with Revelation—reengaging the things we did at first—and there God met you, and He lit a fire.
Ann: Okay; let’s go to this area: I’m imagining a listener, thinking, “Man, if my teenage son or daughter were so excited and zealous about God, and they wanted to show me this worship song, that would be amazing,”— maybe, some have. But others of us, maybe, we have someone who is super apathetic. They had committed their lives to Christ; we saw a zeal; but now, there is a waning of that. As parents—especially with teenage kids—we’re not sure how to address that or what to do.
Dave: They are often saying, “I don’t care about…”; because they are teenagers. They are just going through that.
Ann: Uche, you have a 14-year-old. What’s the best way for parents to interact in that way?
Shelby: That’s Dave and Ann Wilson with Uche Anizor on FamilyLife Today. We’ll hear Uche’s response in just a minute.
You know, one thing we are definitely not apathetic about at FamilyLife is bringing the clarity of God’s Word to a culture that desperately needs it. We need your help. Will you partner with us financially? All this week, as our thanks for your partnership, we want to send you a copy of Kay Wyma’s book, The Peace Project: A 30-Day Experiment Practicing Thankfulness, Kindness, and Mercy. You can get your copy when you give this week at FamilyLifeToday.com or when you call, with your donation, at 800-358-6329; that’s 800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
Alright; now, back to Dave and Ann’s conversation with Uche Anizor and how parents can best interact with an apathetic teenager.
Uche: Well, I am no expert; and my 14-year-old is sort of an odd 14-year-old. She’s stellar in every way; so she’s had sort of a steady zeal for God and for God’s Word for—I don’t know—maybe, ten years now.
Uche: Before she was ten, she had read the Bible—she read the Bible and the New Testament twice—
Ann: Come on!
Uche: —by the time she was ten—
Uche: —during her ninth/tenth year. She’s been very committed. I’m just saying that as a preface—I didn’t do anything there—that’s the Lord. However,—
Ann: You probably did, but you’re also working with college students.
Uche: Yes; again, it’s difficult; because the causes of apathy are person-specific. The last thing I want to do is say to someone; “It’s going to be one of these two things,”—or whatever. It’s just not a formula.
What we are trying to do is we are trying to cultivate a whole people. Cultivating a whole people is something that takes some nuance—it takes some engagement with them; it takes a relationship—it takes you being able to really assess: “Okay, here are several factors I think are at play…” and then just starting somewhere.
It might be, as I said earlier, with college students: they may just not be engaging with the things that they know are primary and basic; that could be. But maybe, over the course of time, and engaging with a college student, I realized, “Man, they are struggling with something like grief,” for instance. They are mourning: either like a real loss, in terms of like a family member; or they are mourning losses in life, like a third-culture kid for instance. I’m just giving an example; you experience the loss of things—you know, the loss of relationships; the loss of familiarity—these kinds of things.
There are a lot of things that we grieve over. For instance, a student may be grieving losses. They haven’t processed the grief, so one of the outcomes of not dealing with grief or processing grief is we grow numb; it’s sort of a coping mechanism. If that numbness is apathy, then the apathy is tied to grief. The only way I’m going to know that is by knowing this person—
Uche: —and questions; right.
Ann: You’re saying, too: “Don’t shame them”;—
Ann: —because that’s probably what I would have done, like: “Why aren’t you reading your Bible?!” and “Where is your zeal?!”—that doesn’t help.
Uche: But it takes a combination of being willing to speak the truth in love. There really has to be love. Love means patience and a willingness to sort of walk with; but at some point, if we are just noticing there is a resistance, and [they] don’t want to do the basics, then you have to say that.
You want to remove whatever sort of/like cloud of mystic around apathy. It may not be mysterious at all; it may just be really straightforward: “You don’t want to engage with God.” It’s actually a sinful, lack of desire to engage with God and has nothing to do with this sort of like perplexing apathy; it’s just: “I don’t care about God.” That, to me, is somewhat different.
The apathetic person is: “I’m a Christian who really, really knows that God is good; and I really, really know that missions are wonderful, and evangelism is great, and the Bible is wonderful,”—and all these kinds of things—“but I just can’t get myself there.”
That’s a different person than the person, who is like: “I just don’t care/I really don’t care about God; I don’t want to pursue Him.” That’s not apathy; that’s a strict, hardheartedness toward God. I think they are subtly different.
Ann: I think it would be really interesting, if you have kids old enough to have this discussion, to talk about apathy. You could even share a definition: “This is what we heard today. This is what the definition of apathy is… What do you guys feel about that? Have you experienced that?”
I would say, as a parent—like, “We all do,”—
Ann: —to normalize it. And “What do you do when you are in that state?” and “What helps you to get out of that, spiritually speaking?” I think that would be great to do with teenage kids, especially.
Dave: I don’t know if I’m right. I was also thinking: “One of the best things you could do for an apathetic kid or teenager is be on fire yourself.”
Ann: Yes; I was going to say, “Model it.”
Uche: Yes, model it.
Dave: Again, you can’t fake that,—
Uche: That’s right.
Dave: —because they’ll sniff that out faster than anybody. But if they see a mom or a dad, who is genuinely zealous for God, it’s something you can’t walk around in your home—you feel it; you smell it—
Uche: That’s right.
Dave: It’s beautiful.
Uche: That’s right.
Dave: —you want it, actually. That would be: “You can tell them what to do; show them what to do.” It’s like, man, when they see you living it, it sort of is caught, not taught; right?
Uche: Yes; we have to make allowances—for different personalities are going, to some degrees, express zeal differently—right?
Uche: So some folks—I have a good friend of mine—he is a colleague at Biola, who to me, is one of the most passionate people I know—love him to death. He has influenced me a lot, but he is not like loud passionate. He’s not like overly expressive passionate; but like, there is a fire, and there is a zeal for the glory of God in this guy’s life; you know?
Dave: So he’s not painting himself up, at a football game, in different colors—[Laughter]
Uche: No, he’s not that guy. [Laughter]
Dave: —with no shirt on; but he’s just as passionate as that guy.
Uche: But he’s passionate for Jesus, and his life is committed here. It’s been great for me to see an example of: “Here is zeal.” He is about ten years older than me, and he is zealous; but then there are the other types, who are like—you’re just the Type A—
Uche: —cheerleader type: “Rah, rah!” That’s legit, too; but there are different ways to be zealous, so we want to be able to hold two things at the same time. We want to be able to say, “No one is off the hook; everyone needs to cultivate a zeal for God”; we also want to say, “Our zeal for God is going to look different”; and we allow for that.
Ann: —especially with our kids, too, because our kids are so different.
Uche: That’s so right.
Dave: We talked about getting in the Word to get zeal, prayer, discipline, worship. Here is one that just hit me—that I think, again, maybe, it’s personality; but it brings back a zealous fire for God—is when you step out in faith, and trust Him in a scary way, and He shows up. I’m not saying He always shows up and answers your prayers [the way you think] perfectly; but when He comes through—and often, it isn’t like I’m watching somebody else’s story—no, I’m the one who wrote the check that is bigger than I’m comfortable with; or I share faith with somebody/a neighbor, and it is scary.
Dave: And then you see God just show up. Don’t you just, like, “What just happened to my spiritual walk?” I’m just excited.
Uche: That’s right.
Dave: Again, it may not be a cheerleader type excitement; but there is a fire in me, like, “God just did something”—
Uche: That’s exactly right.
Dave: —“that I was scared to death. He showed up.” You go tell someone; am I right?
Uche: That’s exactly right. If doubt is a killer of zeal, what we’re doubting is, oftentimes, God’s realness, like, “Is God really, really real?” and “Is He real in my day to day? Is He real for me rather than real for some other dude?” If God actually shows up, then that’s going to contribute to my excitement and passion for him; yes.
Dave: If you are sitting there, and you have been feeling the nudge of God to take a risk—whether it is to share Christ with a neighbor or—I don’t know what it is: step into a conversation; trust God in a great way—do it.
Dave: See what happens.
Shelby: You’ve been listening to Dave and Ann with Uche Anizor on FamilyLife Today. His book is called Overcoming Apathy: Gospel Hope for Those Who Struggle to Care. You can get a copy, if you care, at FamilyLifeToday.com or by calling 800-358-6329; that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
Now, I’ve got the president of FamilyLife, David Robbins, with me here in the studio. And one of the things I appreciate about you, David, is your heart for winning, building, and sending. Why don’t you talk about that for a minute?
David: Yes, I even think about the conversation today about overcoming apathy. One of the things I love about being a part of FamilyLife is the vision has always been about the world—homes all over the world—the family is a global heart language. Every culture, no matter what culture you live in/any country, the family holds a sacred power. What I love about the opportunity, when it comes to the sanctity of marriage and the value of family worldwide, is that it is an opportunity for the gospel to get to people who do not know Jesus. That really is what we are about at FamilyLife. Our mission statement says: “Effectively developing godly families, who change the world one home at a time.”
Just this past week, I got a message from our leader in the Philippines; and Ray, the leader there, was telling me about he was on a phone call, with leaders in India and Turkey, helping them know how to launch ministry to families in their corner of the world.
As you listen to FamilyLife Today, and keep impacting your own corner of the world—know, as you participate with FamilyLife by your giving and by your engagement—you are helping a movement of families all over the world change the world, one home at a time.
Shelby: Yes, I love that specific vision for something so broad as the world. Thanks, David.
Have you ever hid from your neighbor, just to get out of a conversation?—maybe. [Laughter] I’ll admit that I have. Now, Don Everts will be joining Dave and Ann to talk about how important those types of conversations actually are. That’s coming up next week.
On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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